NOV 07, 2016 7:12 PM PST

Severe Poison Ivy Itch Relieved with Antibody

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch
The amount of poison ivy in our environment is on the rise, due in part to increased carbon dioxide levels. It is estimated that 80 percent of the population is allergic to poison ivy. New research by scientists working in collaboration at Duke Health and Zhejiang Chinese Medical University may have identified a new strategy for relieving the terrible itching that poison ivy causes. Publishing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the investigators used an antibody to block a protein in the skin, effectively stopping the signals to the brain that cause the itchiness.
 
A fluorescence microscope image shows the skin of a healthy mouse (left) and skin from a mouse with a poison ivy rash (right). Interleukin-33, shown in green stain, is a protein that acts directly on the nerves, telling the brain the skin is extremely itchy. / Credit: Sven-Eric Jordt/Duke Health
 
The senior author of the work, Sven-Eric Jordt, an Associate Professor of Anesthesiology at Duke, noted that while poison ivy is not a life-threatening condition, there are still significant costs associated with treating the estimated 10 million people in the United States that are affected every year.
 
"Poison ivy rash is the most common allergic reaction in the U.S., and studies have shown that higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are creating a proliferation of poison ivy throughout the U.S. -- even in places where it wasn't growing before," Jordt commented. "When you consider doctor visits, the costs of the drugs that are prescribed and the lost time at work or at school, the societal costs are quite large."
 
While antihistamines are often used to effectively treat the blistering and sometimes painful rash, they don’t always work. It seems that the worst itching associated with poison ivy arises from a different source than histamines. The scientists found that interleukin 33 (IL-33), a protein in the skin that has a role in the immune response, causes that severe itch.
 
IL-33 is normally found in the skin, but Jordt noted that it is present at high levels in people that suffer from eczema and psoriasis. The investigators have shown that IL-33 has a role outside inflammation; it also excites nerves in the skin, transmitting a signal to the brain that the skin is itchy. When the scientists halted the activity of IL-33 by using an antibody, it reduced both inflammation and scratching in mice that had rashes from poison ivy. Blocking a receptor for IL-33 (called ST2) also relieved the itch.
 
An antibody against IL-33 for use in humans is currently in a Phase I clinical trial to check for side effects and safety.
 
"There could be translational significance here," Jordt said. "So our next step will be to look at human skin to see if we see the same activity and the same pathways. We will also look at anti-inflammatory drugs that are already approved to see if they have the potential to alleviate itch."
 


For more about how poison ivy causes a rash, watch the video above from The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). The brief video below illustrates how climate change is affecting poison ivy growth.
 

 
Sources: AAAS/Eurekalert! via Duke Health, PNAS
 
About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
APR 27, 2021
Neuroscience
Leaky Blood-Brain Barrier Linked to Schizophrenia
APR 27, 2021
Leaky Blood-Brain Barrier Linked to Schizophrenia
Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania have found that people with schizophrenia may have a more permeable bloo ...
MAY 17, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
Diagramming Connections in the Brain with Barcodes
MAY 17, 2021
Diagramming Connections in the Brain with Barcodes
The billions of neurons in the brain form a complex network, as shown in this image from CSHL scientists Xiaoyin Chen an ...
JUN 07, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Overcoming Challenges to Detect Apoptosis in 3D Cell Structures
JUN 07, 2021
Overcoming Challenges to Detect Apoptosis in 3D Cell Structures
Researchers are increasingly relying on cells grown in three-dimensional (3D) structures to help answer their research q ...
JUN 16, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
A Potential Way to Prevent Metastatic Cancer
JUN 16, 2021
A Potential Way to Prevent Metastatic Cancer
Metastatic cancer is the deadliest, and it can happen years after cancer has been treated to the point of remission. Met ...
JUN 18, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
How DNA Has Told Stories of Human History
JUN 18, 2021
How DNA Has Told Stories of Human History
Archeological digs have told us a lot about human history, but genetic tools have been able to fill in some of the gaps ...
JUN 20, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
What Triggers a Sneeze?
JUN 20, 2021
What Triggers a Sneeze?
For most of us, a whiff of pepper or tickle in the nose will trigger a sneeze. The action can rapidly expel whatever mig ...
Loading Comments...